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Tune in Tomorrow

As baby boomers retire, agencies must develop a new wave of young, talented recruits. 

The insurance industry is full of baby boomers, the oldest of whom are now entering retirement. And more than half of the insurance industry’s employees are over the age of 40.

This generation has brought the industry into the 21st century. Are we prepared to lose such an integral part of our sales force? Can we attract the next generation of qualified individuals to assume these soon-to-be-vacant leadership roles?

There is certainly an impetus to cut costs in the midst of our uncertain economy. But now is the right time to invest in the future by recruiting and training young talent. One client recently mentioned that "we are in the business of selling, but we are not doing a good job of selling ourselves to the next generation."

A major part of this process should include efforts to overcome the stigma that selling insurance is neither exciting nor innovative, and to use layoff opportunities as a chance to upgrade your work force. Here are action items that can put you on the right track:

Be open to change: Lose the "us against them" mentality. Many insurance organizations are staffed by the old guard and the young guns, with little common ground. There are plenty of opportunities to bridge the age gap. We all have something to learn from each other, whether it’s depth of industry experience or a fresh, innovative approach.

Invest in technology: While smart phones, PDAs, electronic social networking and instant access to information may seem to be just trends, these items are seen as necessities to the younger generation. An investment in these technologies will show employees that your firm is not resistant to change and willing to invest in the tools that your employees (and customers) use.

Become one of the best places to work: By recognizing the differing needs and work styles of employees from one generation to the next, a message is sent that you are willing to do what it takes. Initiate optional flex hours or telecommuting; maintain comprehensive health benefits; establish a creative bonus structure with input from those who benefit; and above all, create a team atmosphere. Each one of these is a process, but can have lasting positive results.

Get the word out: Make your firm known by offering interactive internships; offer to present at college and high school job fairs. Get involved with area colleges—career planning and placement offices are always looking for inside information on what employers are looking for in specific industries.

Take care of employees: Mentoring is an easy and inexpensive way to show young talent that management wants to see them succeed. Management training programs also are becoming increasingly popular and attractive. Encourage staff to join industry associations and attend peer networking events, such as the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents and your state’s Young Insurance Professionals chapter.

Planning now to tap into the younger talent in your firm, attracting new talent, and continuing to establish programs to encourage people of all ages to work together are necessities that will enable boomers to feel better about the legacy they leave behind, and give young talent goals to aspire to in.

Best’s Review columnist Dianne Batistoni is a partner in the insurance services group at EisnerAmper, Bridgewater, N.J.
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